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Liberia: UN shortages to help desperate civilians

Liberia: UN agencies face uncertain security, shortages to help desperate civilians

Despite the relative calm in and around Liberia's capital Monrovia, United Nations and other relief workers - faced with an uncertain security environment coupled with shortages of both staff and supplies - are struggling to meet the growing needs thousands of desperate people.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), even though the fragile ceasefire in Monrovia appears to be holding, relief agencies inside the beleaguered city are struggling to meet the needs of roughly 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering in more than 80 locations.

Monrovia's civilian population face a high crime rate, shortages of food, clean drinking water, health care, and sanitation. A breakdown in law and order and the threat of renewed hostilities prevent IDPs from foraging for food in the bush. People are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to obtain food, such as selling off their remaining possessions, OCHA says.

Armed robberies at night are widespread. There have also been reports of armed scuffles over looted goods in Monrovia suburbs leading to deaths in some cases. The city suburbs remain tense and deserted, and many residents are still apprehensive about returning to their pre-crisis homes. Many who have returned have found their homes vandalized or looted.

OCHA said it had received reports of rape, harassment of civilians by armed men, and child separation within IDP camps. Little is known about the number and condition of people in need outside Monrovia, and there are reports of clashes between rebels and Government forces at Tubmanburg, some 47 kilometres northwest of Monrovia.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), together with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Liberian officials, have carried out preliminary assessments and determined that at least 182,000 people in need of food aid. Planned food distributions at 40 centres throughout Monrovia will be prioritized in proportion to the 12,000 tons of food stocks in the country and the relatively small number of humanitarian staff who are able to operate in Liberia.

OCHA also said hospitals, already overwhelmed by the rise in the number of patients, now lacked the necessary water for basic activities such as bathing and cleaning. Throughout the city, the number of cases of diarrhoea, measles and malaria continues to rise. Together with the Liberian Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) plans to carry out a mass chlorination of wells in Monrovia, but lacks transportation necessary to distribute the 650 kilograms of chlorine that are available.

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